What’s Coming Next For Technology

What’s Coming Next in the Cloud…

When people think of cloud computing, two benefits usually spring to mind: an end to burdensome onsite system maintenance and the beginning of real-time, Web-based data access.

But there’s a third set of advantages offered by today’s cloud innovators.

Through a new “living” approach to product development, system enhancements are developed in response to customer needs on an ongoing basis and offered to all users as they become available. That means users get new features faster, and those features are more closely aligned with their actual business needs.

This approach is quickly replacing old-school product development methods, where providers come up with enhancements and then push them out to users in the form of large packaged updates or versions.

A fluid process

The living system environment fosters open discussion among users, including online forums built directly into the system. Users participate in forums and other networking opportunities to share best practices and provide input on how to enhance the product.

When users request new features or improvements that cannot be met with existing settings or configurations, cloud innovators don’t wait months to deliver them. Features are developed using an iterative process and deployed when they are ready.

Pull vs. push development

In traditional push-style product development, solution providers anticipate and build features and functions they assume will be desired by the market — as well as those that are iterations of what they’ve already provided.

These legacy providers — even many who offer cloud solutions — will often push to the customer base what works best for the providers themselves rather than what the customers want.

But the innovative living system approach is driven by a product’s user community, not a room full of IT developers at product headquarters.

The art of managing a living system community

It’s not practical to include all users directly in the product development process so, in a living system environment, the provider establishes a small group of active users to guide enhancements based on their experiences and what they’re hearing across the community.

This group replaces conventional product managers in providing strategic guidance for new development. It is empowered to drive the identification, prioritization, design, and launch of product enhancements and new features. While it relies on the solution provider’s resources for the actual development work, the group provides direction and input on an ongoing basis.

Customers are eager to represent their peers in this capacity. The trick to forming a successful advisory group is making sure it includes the appropriate mix of perspectives. At my company, for Instance, our Customer Advisory Board membership represents each of our industry verticals and reflects the company sizes, regions and other demographics of our customer base.

Putting the power in the hands of the users means that a system constantly improves in the exact way customers require, not just how the development staff thinks it should.

Continuous improvement

In the living system model, ongoing community-driven enhancements are offered to all customers as they are ready — much faster than they’d be delivered if the provider had to wait until there were enough new features ready to justify a complete release package.

Customers are notified of new features on an ongoing basis and can accept just the ones they want. As their business needs change, they can go back anytime and choose to add other features they may not have needed earlier. The on-demand features are added in minutes, with just a few mouse clicks.

Success in the long-term

In the short-term, a traditional push approach to product development might still be attractive to some businesses. But in the long-term, a living system, or pull approach, will keep more business because it continues to improve and meet customers’ changing needs.

Cloud innovators get this, and they are set up to grow and evolve along with their customers.  It’s no surprise that companies focused on continuous improvement are the ones most heartily embracing cloud-based living systems.

By Jim Shepherd, Plex Systems, Inc.

Jim Shepherd serves as vice president of strategy, responsible for defining strategic direction of Plex Systems with manufacturers across multiple industries and global markets. Shepherd brings 40 years of leadership in manufacturing and technology. Prior to joining Plex Systems, Shepherd served as vice president and distinguished analyst for Gartner Inc., the world’s leading information technology research company. 

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